Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New Beginnings 

The 'what am I doing' syndrome...felt this while in Brisbane and nearing the
time to go back to Indonesia. It was tough, looking around and realising
that all the family are getting on with their lives and here we are, once
again abandoning all to try something new, also miss the house in Perth, and
just the normal day to day stuff that makes life in aussie so much
'smoother' for want of a better word.

But came back we did, hell of a trip, left my sisters at 6.30am, and finally
arrived home at midnight Brisbane time. Still, it was a great time in
Brisbane, and Bali was also very nice, quite relaxing, though didn't get all
those day sleeps I had been planning!

Finally started work on the Wednesday 13 July, no students, just teachers.
It was very well organised, and though there was meeting after meeting, the
difference in staff attitude was somewhat overwhelming. They just get into
it, take it all very seriously, and really work hard. The whole place is
very professional, the principal, a guy from Adelaide, is very together,
very interested in the kids and teachers, and likes to involve us in making
decisions. We have a good discussion, reach a consensus and then move on.
Very refreshing.

He is very meticulous; likes to get something sorted, and then moves on,
with staff PD a dominant factor in his outlook. For instance, during the
week, (starts at 7.15am and finishes for students at 3pm, and staff at 4pm)
I have 16 periods of 45 minutes, but also have scheduled five!! different
meetings during the day, then there is also after school meetings on Monday
(curriculum) and Tuesday (all staff) until 4pm. Thursday is staff sport
afternoon until 4 pm, where we all get together and play volleyball,
basketball etc. Obviously he is trying to bridge the gaps between staff and
expats, staff and staff etc, and it works. Though not into organised sport I
enjoyed it, felt it was very worthwhile.

There is also a lot still to be done, the common story I hear is that it was
a very disorganised place a few years ago before the current admin., and
there is a lot more to do, but the whole emphasis is very professional, and
all are involved in one way or another. I can see that the indo staff are
enjoying their teaching and also enjoy the responsibilities placed on them.
They are by no means experts, but they all try and that makes a big

This week we had Monday and Tuesday doing workshops with all the students
and doing fun things as well and today was the first day of teaching.

I think I'm going to like it here, and can see myself getting very involved,
however, I also recognise that its not going to be easy as I am teaching 3
different curriculums, indo national English for years 10 and 11,
preparatory IB English year 10, and VCE year 11! The amount of work and prep
is quite large but not getting myself tied into knots over it, will just
wing it over the next couple of weeks till I get the basics sorted, such as
a program and assessment outline. Also, obviously, the IB is brand new so
will have to wrap my head around that as well with few to the point
guidelines except for masses of reading that I'll have to do.

The house is comfortable and we have all settled in well. I walk to work and
it's a pleasant five minute walk along quiet streets through the guard gate,
and across to the school. Very easy! The school HR people have bent over
backwards to make sure we are comfortable, installing a new stove and oven
tomorrow, and when I said the hotwater system (electric and not pumping out
much) wasn't great, they came out and are also installing a new gas one by
Friday. Seems nothing is too much trouble. The house was freshly painted,
very clean, and while its configuration is not the best, it has all thee
bedrooms opening off the living area, thus we were worried the kids might
wake with sound of the TV etc, they haven't so guess its okay. Just can't
get over how much they are willing to do for us and make our lives easier,
pretty amazing. Sometimes I feel like the calf being fatted up for the
kill-find myself wondering where the catch is. Ah, me of little faith!!

Did the big car search (car & driver provided both days and any other time
we wanted it by the school-free of charge!) on Saturday and Sunday, there is
a road that is well known for car lots so went there. Finally found a Taruna
long wheel base but C then said it was too small, so opted instead for a
Panther, its called a hi sporty 1997 model, huge beast of a thing with
larger than normal tyres, figured that'd be big enough!! Get it tomorrow I

Lil C has settled in very quickly into her school, she is obviously enjoying
it and the teachers are lovely. The facilities are great, and it is a very
nice area. She wears this cute little uniform, looks a bit like a British
school girl in her dress with wide brimmed hat, and has a good number of
class mates who speak very good English thus she is finally able to
communicate properly which she had been missing I think. Lil D is shooting
up, swear he has grown an inch this last week, and looks positively cute in
his Cavan football gear!

C is also getting around and is starting to meet the other expat wives etc.
she will do well here and enjoy herself. We had a full weekend with parties
to go to on Friday and then Saturday night, everyone makes you feel welcome
(In the 3 days after we arrived we had no less than 5 lots of visitors
dropping by 'just making sure you are okay and do you need anything' etc-
very kind people), and the liquid amber etc is well supplied. There is
an active social and sporting life here for the expats and everyone pretty
much gets involved in something. I have my eye on a wine club.

So, that it's for now, have probably bored you to tears but now you know
what its like over here. Ask me again in six months, I may have another
story to tell but from the looks of things, I don't think so.

Have a beer on me.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

My Brothers Trip 

Flying into Jakarta at night the flow of hazy lights streaming below the
aircraft were chaotic and looking for land I realised that I was flying over
water and the lights were of dozens of ships moored in a stretch of coast.
Crossing over land on the final approach into Jakarta no patterns emerged -
jumbles of light interspersed with swathes of black and the occasional large
fire. As I gathered up my things I practiced my few sentences of Indonesian
in preparation for an expected discussion with Indonesian immigration,
explaining why I was there, who I was staying with and when I was leaving.

First off the plane, I walked purposefully ahead remembering Dom's advice
that it was a fair walk. At every few meters an Indonesian in a brown
uniform waved me on. After a few minutes a glance to my left revealed a sign
for visas on arrival. I steered towards the sign only to waved off
energetically by a young man who pointed feverishly to the other side of the
walk way. Turning I saw four windows set in a row and walked to the one on
the far right that had a sign- Visa $25 US. At the first window I paid my
money. At the second I received a receipt, at the third the visa was printed
off and at the fourth it was stuck inside my passport. Well would have been
except at the precise moment that I arrived at the 'print the visa' window
the official in charge decided to change the printer cartridge. A queue
started to form behind me, weary muttering as the printer reluctantly gave
up its spent cartridge and finally accepted a new one.

With an elaborate flourish my visa was stuck firmly into my passport and I
was once again waved on to continue down the seemingly never-ending walkway.
No smoking signs loomed up at regular intervals as the smell of Kretek
cigarette smoke became stronger. Luggage collected I passed through
Immigration with, disappointingly, no conversation required. A final
formality as my luggage was passed through what seemed to a rather cursory x
ray check and I emerged into a crowded, steamy area. Making my way through
the throng and waving off enthusiastic taxi drivers, porters and hotel touts
I spied Dom.

I had indeed arrived in Jakarta.

First impressions.
Chaotic I would think is the word that comes to mind. The traffic was a
continual collision of sound and movement. The loose arrangement of traffic
was fascinating with every space that a vehicle could fit into taken
advantage of by opportunistic drivers. Within a few hours I had stopped
noting the near misses and almost suicidal driving. Surprisingly on my
return to Australia I found that the photos that I had taken of the traffic
were almost serene, making my memory of the traffic quite surreal. The
volume of people rivaled the congestion of the traffic. There were people
every where. Rarely, if at all, did I have an experience of not having a
person within eyesight.

Decay and prosperity.
Incongruous mansions and modern high rise developments were side by side
with ramshackle dwellings, decaying shopping precincts, vacant lots and half
finished abandoned buildings. Impressive government buildings set well back
from the street, with large signs describing their purpose, were like
constructions from another era, and probably were. Jakarta had the air of a
large metropolis, both smoggy and bustling. Everywhere it seemed that people
were either buying or selling. There were few beggars and from what I saw
little evidence of the extreme poverty that I recalled from the past.

Every shopping complex of reasonable affluence had security with guards
ranging from full paramilitary to tokenism. Metal scanners, radios and
assorted arms were the favored equipment. In one shopping complex the guards
carried large sheathed knives together with similar batons used by the
police in Australia. Often the car would be stopped at the entry check point
and doors opened to check the interior while others looked under the car
body with angled mirrors to check for explosives. These checks were done
with an air of efficiency and were a marked difference from other security
arrangements when a lazy wave through was the order of the day.

Night life.
Great bars with cold beer, attentive staff and good pool tables made an
evening of beer, pool and music very pleasant. Frequented by mostly
expatriates these bars made a startling contrast to the streets outside. A
most disconcerting service was the presence of a pool girl whose sole job
was to set up the balls, retrieve the white when accidentally sunk and
provide encouragement and praise when shots went to plan. Like a cheer squad
of one they enthusiastically congratulated you on the good shots and
commiserated on the bad. However on occasion it was quite unsettling to have
someone peering intently at the table, watching your every move,
particularly when the game was not going well!

Street bars were also good places to go and I had a very pleasant and long
evening that started off in a street bar. The balmy evenings were perfect to
sink a few, though I soon found myself left behind as my companions had
clearly perfected the art of drinking Bintang from large 750ml bottles in a
sure but steady manner. I noticed that after a few days I would ask for
water first and then beer which was a testament to the heat and no doubt my

Crowded, incredibly smoky with thumping hang over inducing music. I found
myself looking for illuminated exit signs and started to feel uncomfortable
when I couldn't find any. The women ranged from devastatingly attractive to
tragic. Making eye contact was a hazard and I was warned to not send out the
'wrong' message that could be construed as inviting unwanted companionship.
In one place we sat in on a very weird auction where men would bid to pay
for women to dance to music, with the woman voted most appealing getting
the pot. The only time when I felt uncomfortable. In all other places it was
much subtler with beautiful women exuding an air of unmistakable grace and

Javanese Karaoke bars.
Fantastically expensive with deafening music, excellent sound proofing,
appallingly bad local music video clips and at times hilarious English
subtitles to sing to. Men would arrive in groups and disappear into private
rooms that could be hired by the hour. Soon afterwards attractive young
women would follow them in to sing and entertain them. Not sure of the rules
and wanting to retain our integrity (not to mention avoiding the wrath of
our absent spouses), the mysteries of the Karaoke bars were never quite
revealed, though suspected. The bar staff generally thought that it was
inexplicable that all we wanted was cold beer. (Crazy Aussies) Our lack of
appreciation of the music as evidenced by our reluctance (horror) at the
thought of standing up and singing was clearly a cause of great puzzlement
but met with the inevitable good humour.

Bandung - famous for its textiles. Coming across a batik store and
demonstrating a serious intent to buy we were quickly brought to the
attention of the woman owning the stall and after a few minutes, with Dom's
impeccable Indonesian, we were given an insight into the geographical and
historical origins of various designs. Attempts to bargain were gently
declined. A photo of the owner on the Gold Coast with her children ' all
educated in Australia' was shown with appropriate comments from Dom and,
more haltingly, from me. Weighted down by numerous batik sarongs and cloths
we left after a very pleasant and surprisingly gentle shopping experience.

Again in Bandung a lovely, high quality arts and crafts shop from a
seemingly bygone era. Beautiful pieces - some at what seemed to be very high
prices. Purchases were beautifully wrapped and again the feeling of having
had a shopping experience from a time gone by.

More lively was the bartering for paintings on the streets of Bandung where
stunning paintings were proffered with good humour and keen bargaining.
Prices plummeted as we pursued the paintings we liked and bargained
vigorously. The 'size up' sale tactics of these painters would have put
McDonalds in the shade. On one occasion three men, each holding a painting,
demonstrated to me how much better three paintings positioned just so on my
wall would look compared to just the one I wanted to buy. Explanations of
lack of wall space were met with cries of disbelief. Paintings three meters
wide were stretched across the path forcing us to stop, admire and, with
good humour, decline.

Most daring shopping experience.
Showing interest in a neat row of lethal looking air guns on a street corner
the seller quickly primes the weapon, loads the pellet and exhorts Dom to
take charge. Grasping the weapon, waving it about dangerously and following
the shouts and gestures of the seller Dom takes aim above the heads of the
crowded street and busy traffic at a collection of plastic bottles tied to a
nearby tree. He fires, the bottles remain motionless and I imagine the
pellet whistling across the street to create havoc, hopefully in a place out
of sight. We walk away a little more quickly than usual.

The spa experience
The local Spa where a massage, dip in a superheated pool (and an ice cold
one), free movies and drinks were a very welcome relief from the hustle and
bustle outside. With attentive staff, clean bath robes and lots of iced
water these places were an oasis in contrast to the frenetic pace of life
outside. A traditional massage at a small Spa in Bandung was a revealing
contrast to the more opulent Spas in Jakarta, but the mandi was
fantastically refreshing. The massages were very thorough and while Dom
ensured that I got a 'medium hard' massage, to my untrained body it was
still an occasionally unnerving experience.

Started to dream in Indonesian after about three nights - weird.

Living in a gated community
Dom's flat where I stayed was part of a development with para military
guards and boom gates. On awakening I would have a coffee and stand on the
terrace to watch our protective force conduct marches and exercises ,
including apparent uniform inspections. Fat men with more braid than an
admiral would roar up on small motor bikes, gesticulate madly and duty
done, roar off onto the next check point. Fascinating photos.

The driver
A very pleasant fellow - good humored and clearly eager to do the right
thing. The car was always spotless and while clearly rather a novice he
spent some time improving his knowledge of where to go , with the occasional
hair raising 'short cut'. Always appreciative of the odd tip for lunch or

The expats.
Interesting and friendly - ranged from those clearly entrenched in Indonesia
to those finding it a hell of a chore. But all bore the mark of an explorer,
with varying degrees of comfort. I felt that their experience, in various
ways, had degrees of distance from the local populace. All of which lent a
certain surreal element to my own personal experience.

The food
Best meal was a Nasi Lemak at the Puncak, authentic, wholesome and to die
for. Dom and I swapping stories of our experience of the Puncak as we
watched the mist roll in certainly helped. Closely followed by a beautifully
subtle Soto Ayam in a small bar in the centre of Jakarta surrounded by a
decaying sort of 'theme park' complex, compete with rusting concrete and a
stagnant lake, weird.

Late at night - a great cup of coffee with Dom, both of us relaxed and happy
to be together, booked into business class - then through the various
checkpoints and into the interior of a cavernous departure airport. Great
business lounge, old Johnnie poured like water (but tasting like Johnnie).
Well stocked gift shops with friendly and attentive staff, bought some
lovely, incredibly delicate, silver boats encased in glass with good humored
bargaining over the exchange rate. Walking onto the Qantas flight back home, met with a G'day, a smile and feeling like home.

Arriving back
Flying back into Perth- lights shining bright and clear. Straight through
customs and out into an amazing blue sky, the air crisp, cold and
wonderfully clean. Took two or three deep breathes and went back in to get a
well deserved cappuccino. Rang Tracey to arrange a pick up and sat back to
watch the comings and goings. On the drive home was amazed at the sense of
space. Two blocks from home overcome by the thought that I am looking out of
my car window and cannot see a single person - realise that the whole time
in Java I very rarely did not look around and not see another person. A
hermit by inclination this realisation had a profound effect, and seemed to
sum up my total experience of the trip. Fascinating, but for me, almost

Post script
A great experience - surprisingly little jolts from the past. Very few
moments where the past intersected with the present. Deeply buried or just
different now, not sure. No regrets of what it could have been, just
pleased that I went, to experience it with Dom, a great traveling companion
and host, and bloody glad to be back home.


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